RALEIGH, N.C. — Federal regulators have issued an operating license allowing a series of hydroelectric dams in central North Carolina to keep churning out electricity for sale until 2055.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s decision on Thursday appears to end the long fight between Alcoa Inc. and North Carolina officials to continue operating the four Yadkin River dams long after the jobs that came with them have gone.
North Carolina’s lawsuit challenging Alcoa’s ownership of the riverbed and a second by an investment group that wanted to bid for the federal license are scheduled to be heard in federal appeals courts in the next two months.
The dams were built beginning a century ago to power an aluminum smelter that once employed 1,000 people. Alcoa closed the factory in 2007. The company has made about $200 million since then by selling the electricity to commercial customers.
Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and his Democratic predecessor, Beverly Perdue, have fought Alcoa’s efforts to renew its federal operating license for the dams. Inexpensive energy from the dams on the state’s second-largest river system could generate thousands of jobs in an otherwise underdeveloped region, both governors said, and the water is an important supply for North Carolina’s 10 million residents.
“After years of working to ensure that the citizens of North Carolina have uncontaminated water for drinking and recreational activities, it is disappointing that FERC chose to issue this license rather than re-opening the process to make sure that the publics’ (sic) interest was best served,” Yadkin Riverkeeper Will Scott said in a statement.
Alcoa said in July it planned to sell the dams to a Maryland company that specializes in running clean-power projects, Cube Hydro Partners, for an undisclosed price.